An energy bill unveiled earlier this week by U.S. Senators has drawn mixed reactions from the faith community, members of which have praised the bill as a step in the right direction for the U.S. while adding that the bar must be raised on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions.
The American Power Act was presented on Wednesday by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) who promised that the bill will "transform our economy, set us on the path toward energy independence and improve the quality of the air we breathe."
The bill includes measures to cut the country's carbon emissions by 17 percent by the year 2020 and contains protections for coastal states against offshore drilling.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Rev. John McCullough, president of faith-based charity Church World Service (CWS), commended Senators Kerry and Lieberman for their "hard work and leadership" in bringing out legislation that "provides an initial step for the United States toward a more ecologically and economically sustainable future."
"Such a bill is vitally needed; indeed, it is overdue," he said.
McCullough went on to say, however, that on climate change policy the U.S. "must set higher expectations of ourselves than what is reflected in the current bill."
"Only by setting the bar higher will we be able to stay competitive in the global marketplace and meet our international obligations," he said, adding that the current 2020 targets are so low that they are "inadequate to maintain the integrity of global climate and to hold the risk of ruinous climatic change to an acceptably low level," quoting from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"The longer we wait to make necessary cuts, the more costly it is in terms of human lives and adaptation expenses," McCullough continued. "Our halfhearted action will contribute to increased hunger for many people living in developing countries and will threaten livelihoods and the very existence of low-lying communities and countries."
McCullough's remarks were echoed by the National Council of Churches (NCC), a group representing more than 45 million Christians in the U.S., who released a statement on Thursday calling for Congress to take "strong and swift action to address the global climate crisis."
"Our brothers and sisters across the planet and all of God's good creation are already suffering from the impacts of a changing climate," the NCC said. "We believe that the United States, as the world's largest historic emitter, has a moral obligation to swiftly reduce its emissions and provide sufficient assistance for those living in poverty in the US and around the world."
The NCC also pointed out a number of "troublesome provisions" in the bill, including the expedited process for investment in and approval of new nuclear power plants, which the NCC says would "exclude the voices of affected communities in the permitting and licensing process."
The group added that they have "grave concerns" over the offshore drilling provisions of the bill, saying that they "fail to sufficiently protect coastal communities and fragile coastal ecosystems."
Aside from the criticism, the NCC applauded the energy bill for its commitment to low-income consumer protection, noting that the Act provides "sufficient resources to meet fully the needs of those living on the economic margins in the U.S., who otherwise would be pushed further into poverty as a result of increased energy and related costs."
"We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to fully meet our obligations," the NCC said.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of faith-based social justice group Sojourners, sees the new bill as a step towards recovery for the nation's "addiction" to oil, a phrase that Wallis credits National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger as coining.
Wallis detailed the consequences of the U.S.'s "addiction" to oil, saying on the Sojourner's website that: "Addictions, as many people have discovered, eventually make your life not work anymore. And that is what has happened to the U.S. and the world - our oil addiction is making things not work."
"The list of consequences is long - from critical climate changes, to the loss of jobs, to supplying money for terrorists, to sacrificing the lives of our young people in wars over oil, to watching an oil spill that nobody seems to know how to stop pour hundreds of thousands of gallons each day into the Gulf of Mexico," he says.
But while the economic and environmental impacts of our fossil-fuel driven society must be addressed, Wallis adds that the deeper issue of American consumerism needs to be fixed in order for real progress to be made.
"At a deep level, what's not working in the U.S. is our lifestyle - particularly the consumerist energy habits we showcase to the rest of the world," Wallis wrote. "Moving toward a 'clean energy economy' will require more than just a re-wiring of the energy grid; it will also take a re-wiring of ourselves - a conversion, really, of our habits of the heart."
"We must adjust our expectations, demands, and values," he said.